(This talk was given by Jiun, Roshi during a Zazen day in December 2000)

Why do we practise walking, eating and drinking?

Today we meditated together, we walked together, we ate together and we drank tea together. Very ordinary things. Things which piece by piece we have already been capable of doing for a long time. So, why do we practise these things?

If you would tell your friends and family that you go to the Zen center Noorder Poort to walk, sit, eat and drink tea, they would probably be surprised. You do not have to learn that anymore, do you? Meditating, yes, but all those other things? To walk?

When we are born we already can walk. Drinking tea is a piece of cake. You just do it. And that is exactly the trouble. Very often when we think we know something or when we think we are able to do something, we do not really pay attention anymore.

In fact the same thing happens in zazen: we are taken away by all kinds of thoughts, notions, expectations, desires. Suddenly it is very difficult to count from one to ten. It is getting difficult the moment we think we can do it.

If the freshness has worn out of Zen, if meditating has become 'just' meditating and the practice of counting the breath is no longer a challenge, then we start thinking counting from one to ten is foolish. This is why 'experienced' sitters no longer can perform this practice very well.

With that we encounter the core of Zen practice. Suzuki, Roshi calls it beginners mind: "Zen mind is beginners mind." This means: whatever you do, always do it for the first time, do it as if you are a beginner. The reality of every moment is that this is the only moment and therefore it is the first time, time and time again.

Experience this beginners mind and see how you give yourself completely to doing something as a beginner. You completely lose yourself in doing or in seeing. Because you completely lose yourself, you are in fact one with what you are doing or with what you are seeing. At that moment you are free from the things that normally make things so difficult for us: notions, desires, emotions.

As soon as you sit down on your cushion, as soon as you are part of the routine of the Noorder Poort and you become aware of how you are present from moment to moment, you will realise how vulnerable you are. Not because of where you are, or because of what you do or what you feel but because of how you enter into that relationship from moment to moment.

If you don't lose yourself as a beginner into what you are doing, you are a slave of your habits. You are not a slave of others or of circumstances, but a slave of conditioning. You uncover the sheer habit of desiring that which is not there, while at the same time a beautiful flower stands in front of you. You uncover the sheer habit of desire that is afraid something pleasurable will dissapear, while at the same time the autumn leaves fall from the trees. You uncover the sheer habit of continuously longing for something else.

Illusions and notions also make Zen practice difficult for us. The practice itself is not difficult. It is thoughts as: "I do not know if I will manage", "I wish I could do this well at home", "It is too short. Actually I should go on for some more days." Or: "Others do not have such a hard time as I do", "That participant always enters the zendo at the last minute" and " She or he always recites too slow."

While we are practising Zen this persistent habit to place problems outside ourselves becomes more and more clear. Zen is a total confrontation with yourself. That is the wonderful thing about this practice, of counting the breath, drinking tea, walking or reciting. It confronts you with yourself, not with others or the other. Find out where these others are when you count your breath or drink your tea as a beginner. Where is the world, where is Buddha when you recite Om Mani Padme Hum?

The thirth patriarch from China, Sengt'san, has said: "The highest way is not difficult at all, but you have to be free from egocentric love and hate, free from likes and dislikes, free from choosing." The Zen way, to realise the true self, is not difficult if we are free from likes and dislikes. But apparently we have to go through these likes and dislikes to be able, as we say in Zen, to just drink tea.

In the practice of Zen we have likes and dislikes: we like walking meditation, but sitting we do not like. We think reciting is awful. Or we think it is strange that we all have to bow at the same time when the bell sounds, that we have to start and stop together, because that is not free at all.

Often we do not realise that our daily life is full of these kinds of rules and regulations. When the light turns green, we start to drive. The meeting starts when the president hits the hammer on the table. And what to think of twenty-two men running after one ball when one person blows his whistle? Why strange? Why not free?

The whole universe knows a certain balance and order. As long as everybody runs in the same direction after the blowing of the whistle, everything is alright. That is living and acting in harmony. That is beginners mind. It means to live in this moment. Find out how you are completely free in this moment, free of choices. Find out how you live to see in this way the pleasant as pleasant, without desire, without attachment. Find out how you live to see this way unpleasant as unpleasant without hate, without dislike.

To live with a beginners mind in this way is not a matter of knowing. Contentment doesn't come from the outside. We realise contentment at the moment we just take a step, just answer the telephone, just wash the dishes, just as if we have never done it before. That is reality. You have never washed this dish before, you never answered this telephone before. This way we also use Zen rituals: they give us the opportunity to find out how we are new from moment to moment, how we are different.

If we realise through and through what Suzuki meant by beginners mind, if we realise through and through why master Sengt'san says: "Free from likes and dislikes", then you can answer the question why we practise this walking, sitting and drinking tea, with: "I don't know. There is no choice." If you do something, just do it. Investigate and experience how you can be really free in this way.

I wish you all a fine day!

Read a tutorial by Prabhasa Dharma, Zenji.